It isn’t often I find myself sitting through a studio presentation, with a smile, thinking, “Hmmm, this feels rather… fresh!” This isn’t a knock on anyone. Lots of talented, passionate execs and creative heavyweights are quite proficient at tap dancing in front of industry audiences, trying to generate excitement for projects years away, with nothing more than a few concept art slides, by speaking a bit too glowingly about one “we are super excited about this awesome new show” movie or series after another, each one looking surprisingly like everything else you’ve been seeing lately. The deluge of animated features and episodic work is upon us. Much of it, I’m afraid to say, won’t get a rise out of anyone. It’s fueling an unprecedented worldwide animation production surge. And, work is work… sigh.
Which is what made the Sony Pictures Animation slate reveal I just sat through here in Annecy feel so very different. Still basking in the glow of Hotel Transylvania 3’s box office success and the groundbreaking Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’s Oscar-winning run, and with a decidedly funny Angry Birds 2 hitting theatres August 2, the studio is starting to hit on all cylinders, a resurrection of sorts from the tumult of just a few short years ago that no one could say, for certain, the studio would overcome at all, let alone so soon.
Today was the day Sony Animation leveraged some richly deserved good will and pushed out a new strategic and creative narrative, by sharing with the community exactly what we can expect from a studio that arguably is taking more risks, engaging in more original and innovative visual and thematic storytelling, than any other major animation studio right now.
It was evident immediately from studio president Kristine Belson’s first words that she was sharing more than new storylines, clips and images. With a new logo and an expansive slate of family and adult animated fare, from top creative minds such as Lord & Miller, Genndy Tartakovsky and the recently arrived Oscar-winning director Rich Moore, among others, Belson was sharing a refreshing and novel mindset, a vision and philosophy that felt risky, aggressive and differnt. How many slate reveals would you expect to share concept art that highlights a male dog’s most prized body part he’d soon be parting with – a surprise Genndy Tartakovsky appearance touting the first film he brought to the studio, Fixed, shared just such an image. The sack in question was most prominent. I laughed.
Bottom line, between upcoming films like Angry Birds 2, Wish Dragon (which I first wrote about in an interview with director Chris Applehans back in 2016); Hungry Ghosts, the crazy anthology based on the late Anthony Bourdain graphic novel; Superbago, with Stoopid Buddy Stoodios; two Tartakovsky projects: Black Knight and the aforementioned Fixed; and a resurrected and reimagined The Boondocks, from iconic cartoonist and social satirist Aaron McGruder, among others, Sony Animation appears to be hitting its stride, and then some.
Below, please find the full release just sent by the studio outlining the new slate and the key creative contributors behind work they’ll be releasing over the next few years.
ANNECY — Sony Pictures Animation made a splash at Annecy Festival, the animation industry’s largest annual gathering, presenting an exciting lineup of all-new animated features coming off of the success of the Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
Sony Animation’s president, Kristine Belson, shared exclusive visuals from the studio’s next major theatrical releases, including The Angry Birds Movie 2, which releases later this year, in addition to 2020’s The Mitchells vs. The Machines, produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, and Vivo, Sony Animation’s first-ever musical featuring original songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda – which has added Zootopia director Rich Moore to the filmmaking team as a producer. The crowd was also treated to a special behind-the-scenes look at the making of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, presented by head of production Pam Marsden.
Belson shared a work-in-progress version of the studio’s new logo, along with her vision for the studio’s future, which includes two new production initiatives to expand the studio’s output and reach audiences of all ages, across the globe.
“Sony Pictures Animation is committed to making big, bold movies, where the hand of the artist, the hand of the filmmaker, is strongly felt,” Belson shared. “We celebrate the fact that we do not have a house style. We intend to continue down the path that we are on – bringing all audiences stories from around the world, stories no one else is telling – and do so in a way that pushes the boundaries of animated storytelling.”
SONY PICTURES ANIMATION’S INTERNATIONAL INITIATIVE
Academy Award-winning producer Aron Warner (Shrek, The Book of Life) joined Belson onstage to announce Sony Pictures Animation’s international initiative, which he is spearheading. With this initiative, Sony Animation will collaborate with storytellers from different countries around the world to develop and produce a wide variety of animated features for both local and global release.
According to Warner, “We are at a very critical point in our history as humans. The future is all of us working together, learning from each other’s stories, mistakes and triumphs. There are countless great stories out there that most of the world has never heard, and every day there’s a new director, writer or artist with a vision stepping up to the plate to lead a team and create something new. I truly believe this is the next big leap in the art form of animation and I’m honored, humbled and incredibly lucky to be part of this project.”
Warner is currently producing the initiative’s first release, Wish Dragon, an imaginative and touching tale about the power of friendship set in modern-day Shanghai. The film, directed by Chris Appelhans (Coraline) and set to release in China in 2020, is a co-production between Sony Pictures Animation, Beijing Sparkle Roll Media, Tencent and Base Media.
SONY PICTURES ANIMATION’S ALTERNATIVE SLATE
Sony Pictures Animation vice presidents Katie Baron and Kevin Noel joined the stage to announce Sony Animation’s alternative initiative, which is inclusive of a slate of serial projects and features aimed at mature audiences.
“We want to continue to tell stories that speak to modern audiences, while exploring different methods of storytelling that are appealing to new filmmakers and artists,” Noel said. Added Baron, “With this new initiative, we are expanding opportunities for artists inside Sony Animation, and also aiming to attract talent known for their work outside of the family space.”
Baron and Noel unveiled three shows in development at the studio: Hungry Ghosts, Superbago and The Boondocks.
Hungry Ghosts is based on the Dark Horse Graphic Novel by the late Anthony Bourdain and Joel Rose. The show will be an anthology of frightening, hilarious, twisted, and culinary-inspired ghost stories. Each episode will range in tone and will look completely different from the last, taking advantage of various forms of animation to best fit each story.
Superbago, a collaboration with Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, and previously developed as a feature film at Sony Animation, will be a half-hour comedy that blends Claymation and live-action, and follows the adventures of two dimwitted animated heroes traveling in a very real Winnebago around the actual United States of America.
The return of The Boondocks, a co-production with Sony Pictures Television, is a complete re-imagining of the beloved and wildly rebellious animated satire for this modern era, and chronicles the adventures of the Freeman family against the evil local government tyrant Uncle Ruckus, who rules fictional Woodcrest County, Maryland with an iron fist.
Celebrated animation director Genndy Tartakovsky (Hotel Transylvania, Samurai Jack, Primal) made a surprise appearance to give the audience a first look at visuals from two upcoming animated features he is developing at Sony Animation: Black Knight and Fixed.
Black Knight is an original, action-adventure epic that tells the story of a highly skilled and faithful knight who, after failing to protect his king, must transform himself into the Black Knight to save the kingdom.
Fixed, the studio’s first R-rated comedy, directed by Tartakovsky, is the story of an average, all-around good dog who is in love with the show dog next door, and what happens when he learns that he is going to get neutered in the morning. What does a dog do with his last night out with his besties?
Belson returned to the stage to close the show and introduce a sizzle piece celebrating the history of Sony Pictures Animation and the ambitious projects to come.
Source: Sony Pictures Animation
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-at-Large of Animation World Network.